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These are The Canmore Secondary Suite Rules

canmore secondary suite and their rules on the lower level of a home

Could a secondary suite in a property help you afford your dream Canmore home? Many locals, young families, investors and hopeful future residents of Canmore ask themselves the same question.

The secondary (or even third!) suite in a home is something as old as time. Believe it or not – growing up – my family home was a 100+ year old red-brick house (complete with a dumbwaiter), with not just one but two suites. Over the years, as our family grew, we would rent two floors and use two. Then rent one and use three. Then eventually, the property became a triplex investment property for my family – and my father built a fourth unit in the coachhouse out back!

Talk about an investment property.

Finding a home that can physically have a secondary suite can be difficult. Generally a walk-out basement is ideal, or a split level home with some separate entrances can work. So the realistic ability to host a suite alone can be a barrier. The next step is ensuring it meets the standards set out by different levels of government in Alberta, including the municipality.

These properties can be rewarding to own and can provide much-needed rental housing to our community – while helping owners foot the bill!

In this article, let’s explore:

  • What is a Secondary Suite according to the Alberta Building Code?
  • How the Town of Canmore defines Secondary Suites/ADUs
  • Best Neighbourhoods in Canmore for Homes with Secondary Suites
  • The Best Way to Find a Canmore Property with a Secondary Suite or ADU

NOTE: This article is accurate as of this writing based on available sources from the start of 2024. It is not intended to advise on any specific situation. Always consult the most up-to-date legislation regarding the legality of suites, and if you have questions on any specific property you’re seeing on the market at all, please feel free to connect with me directly. No question is too small!

What is a Secondary Suite According to the Alberta Building Code

The Alberta Building Code states that secondary suites are “self-contained living units within houses. These suites include a:

  • Kitchen
  • Bathroom
  • Separate Entrance”

There are a lot of specific details regarding secondary suite standards – too many to mention here. Refer to this excellent brochure from the Government of Alberta which goes into all of the specifics.

Some key items that I find tend to be of highest importance when considering specific properties in Canmore are:

  • A minimum ceiling height of 78 inches.
  • In each bedroom, a window with an opening of no less than 543 square inches, and no dimension less than 15″.
  • Homes containing secondary suites must have interconnected smoke and carbon monoxide alarms installed to cover both dwellings.
  • Secondary Suites shall be served by an independent heating and ventilation system.

How the Town Of Canmore defines Secondary Suites or Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs)

The Town of Canmore prefers to use the term Accessory Dwelling Unit (ADU), and these can be attached (contained) or detached (separate) from the primary dwelling unit. For the Town of Canmore’s specifics on ADUs and Secondary Suites, please refer to their excellent brochure located here. This brochure tends to focus on secondary buildings/detached ADUs, something that is very limited in Canmore in my experience, unless you are building new to suit.

Key municipal items to note are:

  • ADU size is limited to 40% of the total gross floor area of the building, or 80m2, whichever is less. When located in a basement of a one-storey detached dwelling, the unit may occupy a maximum of 50% of the total gross floor area.
  • One automobile parking stall must be provided in addition to the automobile parking stalls required for the principal dwelling unit.
  • Two long-term bicycle parking stalls must be provided. The bike parking must be easily accessible to the ADU (not located in a private garage) and if located outside be sheltered and be able to be locked securely.

Building Codes, Retrofitting, and being “Grandfathered In”

When it comes to building codes, generally a building is only required to be held to the standard of the day when it was built. For example, stairs are wider today than they were 20 years ago due to safety – but an owner could hardly be expected to “widen” their existing staircase. So depending on how a property was initially envisioned and used, it may have differing specifications but still be deemed a safe place for tenants.

From the Town of Canmore ADU Brochure referenced above:

“It is not intended that the Alberta Building Code be used to enforce the retrospective application of new requirements to existing buildings. Existing/older buildings which do not meet the current ABC requirements are at the discretion of the Safety Codes Officer to ensure life and building safety that reaches a level equivalent to the intent of the building code.

With the introduction of a suite in to an existing building, careful consideration of the level of safety needed for the building is required. The increased cost of implementing the most current ABC requirements to legalize an existing suite, may incur a significant expense depending on the scale of the renovation required. It should be noted that alternative solutions to code requirements may be acceptable, as long as it can be demonstrated how it addresses the same issues/requirements related to Division B in the ABC.

It is important to note, that each retrofit suite design can have unique situations and considerations the Safety Codes Officer must work directly with residents on. Should you have any questions about the requirements that may be specific to your retrofit, please contact the Planning Department who will then forward your questions to a Safety Codes Officer.”

Where To Look for Homes with Secondary Suite potential in Canmore

So where in Canmore do we tend to find homes with secondary suites/ADUs, or the best potential to have them?

The Best Canmore Neighbourhoods for Existing Secondary Suites or attached ADUs:

  • Peaks of Grassi
  • Cougar Creek
  • Three Sisters
  • Lions Park

The homes in these neighbourhoods tend to have just what is needed for suites – so many already have them. Larger lots in Cougar Creek & Lions Park facilitate separate entrances. Many homes in Peaks of Grassi were envisioned with suites to help locals with affordability and bolster local rentals. Some homes in Three Sisters are perfectly setup with in-slab heating and separate kitchens on the walkout level, making them ideal for a secondary suite.

For detached ADUs:

South Canmore and Lions Park tend to be where we see these. Larger, older lots clustered around the city centre with alleyway access tend to create situations where a garage or outbuilding could be converted into an ADU. While this would be an ideal situation, high costs for properties here and conversions make this an unlikely choice for the typical buyer. If you have deep pockets and plan to build to suit (but still need a tenant to pay the bills…), then this could be an option. Anything can happen!

The Best Way to Find a Canmore Property with a Secondary Suite or ADU

Working with a highly recommended, local REALTOR tends to be the best way to secure the right property for your needs. I’ve helped many buyers acquire this type of property, and know exactly what to look for in a secondary suite. I always tend to note though: we have a small marketplace, and these are very specific properties in Canmore. So they aren’t exactly falling from the sky. But they do come up, and can be a rewarding property type to own.

If you have questions on Canmore secondary suites, real estate you’re seeing or simply our community in general, please feel free to text, email or call me directly. I’m happy to answer any questions you have and guide you as a real estate professional.

Cheers!